Sydenham Hill Wood campaigners lose High Court case over 100 council homes on nature reserve

By Robert Firth, Local Democracy Reporter

Locals battling to stop flats from being built on a ‘beauty spot’ have been dealt a blow after their appeal against a High Court ruling in support of the plans was thrown out.

Residents had hoped to reverse a decision that concluded there were no grounds to overturn Lewisham council’s approval of 100 social rent homes on the site next to the Sydenham Hill Wood nature reserve.

But last week campaigners found out their application to the Court of Appeal had been rejected. Residents had hoped to argue that the City of London Corporation – which owns the site – hadn’t proved the proposed seven-storey apartment block was the least harmful option for the area.

They also claimed that the London Wildlife Trust’s opposition to the development wasn’t taken into account by Lewisham council because planning officers missed an email.

Campaign group Friends of Mais House – which is named after a former supported living block for the elderly that will be demolished under the planned rebuild – said they were ‘shocked’ their appeal had been refused.

In a post on the group’s fundraising page from September 11, campaigners wrote: “Friends of Mais House are saddened to share the news that the application for appeal has been refused.

This has come as a shock to campaigners and lawyers, who all agree there is a strong case for an appeal. A meeting is being arranged with the legal team this week.

“While we’re considering our options, we urge supporters to write to your elected representatives and urge them to intervene. It’s not too late to stop this massively insensitive and environmentally damaging overdevelopment. We’ll report back further following legal advice.”

In July, High Court judge Mr Justice Fordham dismissed residents’ bid to overrule the council’s approval of the rebuild plans. He said there was no legal basis to overturn Lewisham’s decision and ordered Helen Kinsey, who brought the case on behalf of campaigners, to pay legal costs of around £5,000 to the council.

Lewisham says the redevelopment of the site on the Sydenham Hill estate will provide homes for some of the 10,000 plus families in need of a council house in the borough.

The City of London Corporation and Lewisham council will split the planned homes between them.

Lewisham council originally approved plans for the redevelopment of the site in August 2020. Campaigners appealed the decision in the High Court and won due to administrative errors made by the council during the planning process.

The council approved almost identical plans for the site a second time in June 2021. Locals launched another bid to overturn the plans in the High Court but were unsuccessful. Following the ruling, they vowed to take the matter to the Court of Appeal.

Lewisham councillor Brenda Dacres said: “Following the Court of Appeal’s decision, I look forward to seeing this important 100 per cent social housing development progress.

“The development at Mais House will see an empty building and garages replaced with much-needed social homes for families on our housing waiting list, as well as planting more trees, creating a new play space for residents and retaining current green space on the estate.

“With over 10,000 families on our housing waiting list, we sometimes have to take tough decisions to ensure we deliver new social homes and tackle the housing crisis. While it is regrettable that we have had to go through this extensive legal process, we can now be confident that the correct decision has been taken.”

Pictured top: Mais House in Sydenham will be demolished and replaced with a seven-storey tower block under the plans (Picture: Robert Firth)

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